In the back of every NBA player's mind there has to lurk the understanding that they are both really, really, really good and also somehow limited. To make it to the NBA is an acknowledgement that a player is among maybe the top 500 in the world at one specific thing. Obviously, to be in the top 500, skill-wise, of anything in a world of seven billion is quite an achievement. I am not the first person to comment on this. (Because, of course, I am not even close to the top 500 of anything.)
But then, said player makes the NBA and is told their big fish-small pond reality--the one that has guided their entire lives to this moment--is to be inverted. In any other context, they are the best, but here, sometimes, they may not play at all. After seven seasons, James Johnson has clearly reached this contradictory plateau. He can do both everything and nothing. He looks both invincible and vulnerable. He both plays and does not.
Did James Johnson Play?
So, as it turns out, Moodgate wasn't as disastrous an affair, minutes-wise, for Johnson as I'd originally predicted. In fact, my line of 7.5 minutes was set far too low. Johnson played more than double that this week--just over 16 minutes--in only two games. (He sat last night in the Raps' comeback win over Atlanta.)
It really is impossible to guess at where Johnson's head could be at these days. The game in which he played the most (11+ minutes at home against the Suns) was the lone game the Raptors lost this week. Johnson had some nice finishes in traffic and was +7 for the game, but to what end? Meanwhile, the two thrilling Raps wins this past week saw him just barely get on the court or rack up a cruel DNP-CD.
At the very least, Johnson remains very appreciative of his teammates:
Corey Jo #6God— James Johnson (@IamJJ3) November 29, 2015
Speaking of Cory Joseph appreciation, the most demonstrative highlight for Johnson came not as the focal point, but rather the beneficiary of a nice play. Let's go to the videotape:
First, Joseph really does wreck Bradley Beal here. I mean, like, yowza. Second, it has been delicious to watch the Wizards--a supposed "contender" in the East--fall to 7-9 in the early quarter of the season behind statistically sub-par play from John Wall and the papier-mâché assemblage they call a frontcourt. This team starts Kris Humphries most games--Raps fans gave up on seven years ago! Third, this is peak Johnson: locked in, opportunistic play with a strong finish. More of this please.
Prediction for the Week
An up-and-down week awaits the Raptors, starting tonight against the Denver Nuggets. Given the team's bench struggles as of late (Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson seem only sporadically alive), the fact that Kyle Lowry played his 37 minutes last night with the flu, and that Lucas Nogueira is suddenly getting minutes, it feels like something's got to give. My bet: Johnson gets a chance tonight to do some damage on the court.
After that, like I said, up-and-down: the Warriors go for win number 21 in a row on Saturday, then the Kobe Bryant farewell circus tour rolls through on Monday, and finally the whirring terror that is the Spurs says hello on Wednesday.
Let's call it: Johnson gets in all of this week's games, and plays a not un-small role on at least two of them.
Over/Under Minutes: 21.5
Four games this week. A tired, stretched thin team. The need for bench production from somewhere, anywhere. And the potential, let's be honest, for blowouts going either for or against the Raptors.
Time to be bold.
What do you guys think?